When times get tough, teeth just aren't on the top of the "take care of this now" list. And that's nothing to smile about.
The 2011 Survey of Dental Care Affordability and Accessibility conducted for Brighter.com by Empirica Research in conjunction with Dr. David Neal, professor at the University of Southern California, shows that approximately 50% of Americans lack dental insurance, and in 2010, dental premiums increased at a higher rate than medical insurance premiums.
"The recession and high unemployment rates have put more of the burden of dental care on the shoulders of already strained budgets," says Jake Winebaum, founder and CEO of Brighter.com. "As a result, our findings indicate an alarming number of people are missing their needed preventative care -- largely due to high cost and lack of insurance coverage. And something needs to be done about it."
While there's a fair amount of fear and loathing associated with going to the dentist, according to the survey, the No. 1 reason people have for delaying dental care is its high cost, followed by lack of transparency about costs, and then difficulty in finding a good dentist.
The statistics are startling: 77% of those without dental coverage have delayed regular dental care due to its cost. Nearly 50% of parents without coverage report having delayed their children's regular dental check-ups for the same reason. That figure drops to a still high 30% among parents who do have insurance. Among those without dental coverage, 74% say they only go to the dentist when they believe they have a problem with their teeth; only 26% get preventative care. On average, those without coverage say they go to the dentist once every three years -- one sixth as often than the surgeon general's recommendation of twice a year. Almost one in three retirees with no insurance say that because of the costs, they aren't likely to go to the dentist in the next five years.
"As a parent, it is alarming that nearly half of respondents delayed care for their kids," says Winebaum. "This supports a recent [Centers for Disease Control] study that reports that cavities, a completely preventable condition, [are] up 15% in kids ages 2 to 5 over the past 10 years."
Then too, a bit of initiative could help in finding affordable dental care. Like anything else, it's all about shopping around. Brighter.com, for example, has pre-negotiated rates that it says are 20% to 60% lower than typical prices, says Winebaum.
The surgeon general has called the barriers to quality, affordable dental care a "silent epidemic," leading to 164 million hours of lost productivity a year. According to the study, those without dental insurance are dramatically less likely to get the recommended care and are therefore more likely to develop major health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, all of which are linked to poor oral health.